Children's services 'soft targets' warning by Keith Towler

Children and youth services should not be seen as "soft targets" due to financial pressures, the children's commissioner for Wales has warned.

In his annual report Keith Towler says failure to support vulnerable children and young people could lead to more problems later on.

He added an youth service strategy is needed as a "vision" of what youth services should provide.

The Welsh government said it will respond after considering the report.

Mr Towler said that after meeting young people all over Wales he had realised how much value they placed on youth services.

"I have been hearing from professionals and others there is a real concern about the pressure youth work and youth services is under with diminished budgets," he added on BBC Radio Wales.

"What I'm trying to do today in the annual report is to say we need to value youth work in the way that young people value it."

Mr Towler said the absence of a national (youth) strategy feeds the absence in local plans in relations to youth work especially in "austere times".

"You look at budgets and you begin to see that it's a bit of a soft target and that really undermines the value that young people place on it."

He warned too that the cost to the public purse would be higher if there were cuts.

"It costs £35,000 to keep someone in a young offenders institution and £75,000 a year to run a project for 125 young people in a community which might prevent them from going into the young offenders institution in the first place.

"So in terms of thinking how we best use our money youth service and youth work provides a fantastic return," he added.

The Welsh government said it welcomed the annual report.

'Financial strains'

"We will now take time to consider the findings of the report in detail and will respond formally in due course," said a spokesperson.

The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said it works closely with the children's commissioner and "we recognise his concerns".

"It is important to acknowledge the multiple and severe financial strains currently being felt by council budgets.

"Only last week the older people's commissioner was seeking prioritisation for adult services while other lobby groups are also urging similar protections in their respective policy areas.

"Ultimately budgets are being cut and not everything can be prioritised."

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